12 Concerti Grossi
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Multi award-winning period performance ensemble il giardino armonico, led by the charismatic and inspiring giovanni antonini, make their first appearance on the newly invigorated l'oiseau lyre label with a wonderful new recording of handel's 12 concerti grossi op. 6 to mark the composer's anniversary year (2009). Handel's concerti grossi, op. 6 are one of the pillars of baroque orchestral music. Il giardino armonico takes a characteristically dramatic and instinctively italian view of the music (handel did after all hone his compositional skills in italy before settling in england). The group hopes to reclaim handel for italy by exploring some of the unique qualities that their native temperament can bring to the music.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As they did with their earlier recordings of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Il Giardino Armonico here take a distinctly Italian road towards Handel's works. It is hard to argue with Antonini's undeniable claim that the concerto grosso originated in Italy and that Handel's stay in Italy brought him into contact with, and inspired his works in, this genre. This much is simply historical fact. But as with their recordings of Vivaldi and Bach, Il Giardino Armonico are bound to polarize between those who are open to new approaches and those who decry everything that deviates from the expected as "perverse". Il Giardino Armonico play not only with a distincly Italian verve, but are also unafraid of a great deal or musical flexibility, risk taking and expressive variation, which includes some very pointed attacks that some might describe as "harsh" or "theatrical" or "unrefined".
What these comments reflect, however, is a predisposition towards a more familiar staid and solid style of "inoffensive" playing of the Baroque repertoire, which so often relegates Handel to the emotional and intellectual level of background music. Here instead Antonini and Giardino Armonico offer you Handel that will make you leap out of your chair and dance around the room in joy. The clear rhythmic articulation, wide range of dynamic contrasts, and extremely precise playing indeed helps appreciate Handel's musical structure better than in other interpretations that gloss over details that Giardino Armonico here, in the views of some, "overarticulate".
So, if you are looking for "safe" and "inoffensive" traditional readings look elsewhere. If however, you'd like to hear Handel afresh, full of life and unafraid of big contrasts between light and dark, then this set is for you. If you know Il Giardino Armonico's Vivaldi and Bach, you likely know what you're getting into anyway. If you don't, then listen to the samples and see for yourself if this style of music making speaks to you.
One more note: one of the other reviewers mentions William Christie's recording of Concerti Grossi Op 6 with his les Arts florissants. That is indeed a very fine and equally recommendable recording, full of life and played with a bit less of the edge Il Giardino Armonico exhibit here. But Christie's recording is but a small 1CD-survey containing only a third of the works contained on this 3CD set.
The fact that Handel spent time, in his youth, studying in Italy; and that he wrote so many operas in Italian -- do not make him an Italian composer. The attempt, as it seems to me, to force him to sound like a Vivaldi wannabe, simply backfires for me. It is full of forced and mannered accents, now loud, raw, and harsh; now gentle, low, and sweet -- all alternating without rhyme or reason -- and pretty much without musical-energetic merit. The influence of beautifully singing Italianate melody, during Handel's early education, was quite sufficient to nurture his art...in the opinion of a non-musician.
But, I would give the results three stars anyway for the excellence of the musicians as players. Unfortunately, I can recommend this recording only as a kind of lark, and an exploration into the unusual. But as one who loves so much of Handel, and frankly, so little of the "authentic instrument" movement, I see no way to brighten my judgment of the matter.
Was it the conductor who put them up to it or was the "experiment" done this way by mutual consent? I have no idea. But the results, I regret writing, speak for themselves.